Have you ever started writing a book with a burst of energy and enthusiasm? For a time, your fingers were flying off the keyboards, and then somewhere in the manuscript…they stopped. Have you ever become a victim to writer's burnout?
At some point in the writing process, every writer feels exhausted.
It's hard work writing a book, let alone working full time, caring for children or pets, and any other additional responsibilities you have in daily life.
Nothing is more frustrating than when, for one moment, you felt fully immersed in your story. The next day you're tempted to give up on it altogether. You're tired. You need a rest.
First, this is normal. Second, you can overcome it!
In this article, I share my personal experience with writer's burnout. I also suggest six helpful ways to overcome burnout so you can get back to writing—and not regret the time you spend with your story.
Writer's Burnout Strikes Again
Last year, about fifteen months ago, I made a promise to myself:
I was going to start treating writing like a job and take it seriously.
I set no expectations or goals, only that I was going to start working on some aspect of my author career for a set number of hours each week and see where it takes me.
At the time I was working a fairly laid back job and desperately looking for something to focus on so I didn’t lose myself in the chaos of the pandemic and homeschooling my children. Ten hours a week, I told myself.
As it turned out, when you treat something like a job, things happen.
Soon I was writing bi-weekly articles and blog posts, working on multiple new books, sending countless inquiries, and signing a publishing contract. I committed to publishing a trilogy with six months in between each book, gave talks to other writers, and networked in any way I could during pandemic conditions.
In November, I also changed to a much more demanding job where I functioned as a one-person team. I worked my day job full time, my writing job on nights and weekends, and kept two children alive somewhere in between. I worked every evening, every weekend, every holiday, every chance I had. I worked on my birthday. I worked while visiting my in-laws.
I even sought out chances to network and promote my book while away on my friend’s bachelorette weekend.
Have you found yourself in similar situations?
I launched a book while writing another book, then immediately got to working on launching another—while writing yet another.
I forgot my birthday and my anniversary because I was, you guessed it, writing.
I don’t know how many hours I work right now as an author. I lost track a long time ago. I was getting great at my writing progress and thrilled that my writing career was finally going somewhere. I thought I could keep going forever.
And then, to no one’s surprise, I burned out.
Has this happened to you?
Looking back on it, everyone saw it coming but me.
My friends and family all told me at different times that I was doing too much and needed to slow down. “You can’t keep up this pace forever,” they'd say. I refused to believe them.
How could I get tired of doing something I loved?
I’d kept it up for over a year. Surely I could keep going.
But one day I sat in front of my computer and realized my mind was blank.
I couldn’t write. Inspiration had left me. I wanted to sleep all the time and had a difficult time concentrating on anything during the day. I had no patience for work or writing and no interest in things I used to like, and I even found myself annoyed at the people around me because I was physically and mentally tense.
Can you relate?
Most importantly, I found I didn’t enjoy the writing process anymore. Even typing a few words became a challenge.
It took about two months before I slowly began to come out of my writing burnout.
It was something I never thought would happen to me—writer’s burnout. The process wasn’t, and still isn’t, easy. But I’ve learned a few things about myself, most of which were very humbling.
Today I want to share with you six realizations that helped me overcome the low moments in my writer's burnout. This way, hopefully if you find yourself in the same position, you’ll be less stubborn than me.
You'll know what you need to do in order to successfully conquer a writer's burnout.
6 Helpful Ways to Overcome Writer's Burnout
1. Admit you are burned out
This sounds easy but is actually incredibly difficult.
No one likes to admit they’re at their limit. I certainly didn’t.
In fact, I still struggle with feeling like a failure for burning out at all. How can I be such a hypocrite? I’m the one who gives talks on productivity. I’m the one who writes entire novels in six to eight weeks and teaches other people how to do it. I can’t burnout. It goes against my whole brand!
Truth is, that’s ego talking.
We all burnout. We’re not machines that keep chugging, as much as we like to believe we are.
The signs of burnout look different for everyone. Some people become tired or depressed. You might suffer from a lack of sleep or a drop-off in a social life you once enjoyed. Some people become anxious or jittery.
For me, it took until I lost my passion for what I loved most to admit my tank was empty. If I had admitted it earlier, I might not have gotten to that point.
So if you feel tired, or bored, or frustrated, don’t ignore that feeling, especially if it's beginning to impact your creative energy.
Take a moment and a deep breath and ask yourself if you might be doing a little too much. Be willing to recognize the signs of hitting your limit before you actually hit it.
You’ll be far better off for it.
2. Ask for help
As much as we hate admitting to our limitations, we hate asking for help even more.
When I finally admitted to being burned out, I took an honest look at what I had on my plate and decided to finally ask for help.
- I asked a friend to help me read and review the last few indie books on my plate.
- I requested two days off work and used it to build up a cushion of articles so I could relax my writing schedule a little.
- I asked family members to watch the children for a few extra hours.
- I requested extra time on my current book—time I desperately needed, and time necessary to make my book the best it can be without neglecting other authoring activities. (There’s nothing wrong with giving yourself a little leeway.)
With a few things off my plate, I breathed easier and took time to get organized. I also kept myself from overloading the extra time with more tasks and instead allowed myself to spread out what I need to do over more time.
Asking for help is an important step you need to take to overcome burnout. Be honest with your loved ones that you need support.
Don't be ashamed, be proud of yourself for doing this.
Self-care can be kind of a buzzword. If you google self-care, ninety percent of what comes up is bath bombs and scented candles. If all of our problems could be solved by those, then life would be a lot simpler.
Real self-care is a little more complex. It involves honestly identifying what you need and what you can do to fulfill it. This may take a few tries, but once you figure it out, it’s absolutely worth it.
For me, I did a very simple thing: I learned how to nap.
I’ve never been a napper, but in the midst of burnout, I realized my energy reserves were terribly low, especially in the afternoon. Low energy led to tiring evenings when I’m supposed to be doing most of my writing.
So I decided I had nothing to lose if I gave napping a try. I had to learn how to power nap in a way that works for me: twenty minutes in the early afternoon with the lights on so I don’t fall into too deep a sleep.
Working from home in the corner of the bedroom was finally proving to be convenient for something!
This simple change has been lifesaving. I felt much more refreshed not just in the afternoons, but on a day-to-day basis.
The solution won’t be this fast and easy for everyone. And this new addition to my day certainly didn’t solve everything. But sometimes a minor change can have a major impact, and that can be the first step to getting yourself back on track.
You might need a boost to your physical health by taking a walk, or maybe you need some quality time in your family life to refill your creative well. Even if you need a short break from writing, it's worth it to come back to the page refreshed and ready again.
[/share-quote] A minor change can have a big impact. What can you change in your daily routine to give you more energy to write—and less likely to avoid writer's burnout? [/share-quote]
4. Change things up
Never underestimate the power of change.
Switching things up can give your brain a much-needed reset.
Earlier this year, I made a conscious decision to set aside my other passion—art—in order to make more time for writing. However, as the year wore on, I found myself increasingly frustrated and tired by the drudgery of working and writing.
A few weeks ago, I dug up a sketchbook on a whim and spent a few minutes sketching and—surprise, surprise—it turned out to be a much needed release.
Since then I’ve made an effort to spend time drawing at least once a week, even only for fifteen minutes. The change of pace has been much needed, more than I was willing to admit at first.
If you're suffering from creative burnout in one mode of creation, try switching things up. You might find your writing inspiration racing back to you with a little distance.
5. Lower the bar
This one is hard, because it sounds an awful lot like I’m asking you to compromise the quality of your work. I'm not.
The truth is, burnout often has to do with high expectations.
We push too hard because we expect too much of ourselves and end up expending more energy and time than we have. And yet, when we get to that point, rather than accepting we’ve reached our limit, we end up being disappointed in ourselves for not meeting an expectation that was probably not realistic in the first place.
Lowering the bar doesn’t necessarily mean lowering the quality of your work. Rather, it means setting more realistic expectations based on your current available resources.
On my part, I realized that I was expecting too much out of the current draft of my next book.
I was writing a second draft and expected it to be near-perfect when done, like my previous two books had been. But in reality, this book is far more challenging and frankly, a beast to write.
When burnout began to set in, I had to be honest and recognize that I was expecting too much out of this draft, that a third draft would probably be needed and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Just because my previous books didn’t need third drafts doesn’t mean I can’t write one for this book.
After admitting I needed a third draft, my stress level was much lower and I was able to focus on the overarching plot of the current draft rather than obsess over minute details.
6. Take a break
I can’t emphasize this enough: take a break.
A break is highly recommended when you suffer a burnout. And I fully admit that I put it off longer than I should. I didn't want to stop writing, but a pause from the stress was becoming a necessity.
I have a full time job, limited vacation days, and a lot of deadlines. Taking a break from both my day job and writing is difficult, and my obsessive personality refuses to allow me to miss deadlines.
But the truth is, I didn’t realize how burned out I’d been until I lightened my load and took a break. It’s easy to get used to the feeling of being stressed and just live with it.
I hadn’t noticed how tense my body and chest were until I was finally able to relax. My physical and mental health were both suffering but it’s easy to ignore that when you’re wrapped up in the never-ending to-do list.
So rest. Relax. Cut yourself some slack. There's more to life than word count.
And when you're recovered, pick up your writing again.
Overcoming Burnout is Hard, And Possible
As I’ve said before, admitting to burnout is hard. If you are struggling with writer's burnout, know that you aren't alone.
The most important difference is that you can't love writing if you don't love the process. How could you? The process and writing come as one beautiful package.
Take time tofu to pay attention to your current burnout level, noting where you might be pushing too hard, where you might need a break or a change.
At the end of the day, it’s important to know what’s best for you. Writing life isn't easy. There’s nothing wrong with adjusting routines to alleviate the burden or asking for help. Being honest with yourself and knowing your needs and limits will make you a happier, healthier, and a better writer.
When you feel like you don’t want to admit to your burnout, keep in mind that you will do no one and nothing—including your own work—any good if you are not functioning as your best self.
I’m still navigating this road. I’ve learned a lot about letting go of expectations and caring for my author self. The writer’s road is truly paved with life lessons.
My biggest hope for other authors is that you will be more aware of your wellness, both mentally and physically, so you allow yourself a break before you burn out.
After all, your book deserves a healthy, happy author and you deserve a life balance that can be sustained.
What about you? When did you suffer from writer's burnout? How did you overcome it? Let us know in the comments.
Today's practice is going to be a little different. It's going to focus on some much needed R&R and reflection on your writing process.
Before you do this, spend five minutes to reflect on what is taking energy and joy away from your writing.
Then, for fifteen minutes, choose one of the strategies from this article and come up with a plan on how you will implement it into your day-to-day. This might look like:
- Lower the bar: Commit to some small deadlines rather than tough ones for one month. What does this look like?
- Self-care: What is taking energy away from your writing? What will you change to get that back?
- Ask for help: Who can help you get some R&R? What will you do when they help you?
Make sure to journal this all down, and let us know which of the six ways you're going to try in order to overcome writer's burnout in the Pro Practice Workshop here, and leave feedback for a few other writers. Not a member? Join us here.
J. D. Edwin is a daydreamer and writer of fiction both long and short, usually in soft sci-fi or urban fantasy. Sign up for her newsletter for free articles on the writer life and updates on her novel, find her on Facebook and Twitter (@JDEdwinAuthor), or read one of her many short stories on Short Fiction Break literary magazine.